New Delhi/Patna | All but three MLAs of the Congress in Bihar, the second largest constituent of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, which lost power last week, were on Sunday flown to Hyderabad amid fears of poaching by the BJP-led NDA, party sources said.
When contacted, AICC Bihar in-charge Mohan Prakash neither confirmed nor denied the development, but asserted “rumours are being spread that Congress MLAs will break away, when the truth is that JD(U) legislators are under pressure due to voters’ anger against them, after their party’s switch to the NDA”.
“They (JDU) should worry about keeping their flock together,” Prakash said.
Party leaders from Bihar had met AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge in Delhi, who took stock of the situation in the state, where the latest volte face of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) president, has sent shockwaves in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ as well as the opposition INDIA bloc.
Congress has 19 MLAs in the state assembly out of whom 16 had turned up at the meeting, which was also attended by state Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh and MLCs Prem Chandra Mishra and Madan Mohan Jha.
A party official in Bihar, who requested anonymity, said, “Those who did not turn up in Delhi included Avidur Rehman, the MLA from Araria. But, it is well known that he is busy taking care of his daughter who has been very unwell of late”.
However, the absentees also included Manohar Prasad Singh, the MLA from Manihari who is “expected to reach Hyderabad by Monday” and Siddharth Saurav, who represents the Bikram assembly constituency, and is known to be at daggers drawn with the current state leadership.
CPI(ML) Liberation Dipankar Bhattacharya, whose party is the third largest constituent of the grand alliance, told PTI over phone: “I am not aware of Congress MLAs being flown in to Hyderabad. But even if that is the case, it comes as no surprise in view of the BJP’s style of functioning”.
“BJP has a proven track record (of poaching MLAs). As a result, all parties are extra cautious. The saffron party is never known to shy away from indulging in dubious tactics,” said Bhattacharya.
However, the Congress sources said more than the BJP, it was Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), a former ally, which they suspect of trying to poach its MLAs.
“The BJP and the JD(U) together have an absolute majority in the assembly. But, the JD(U)’s numerical strength is far lower than that of the BJP, a fact that has been annoying the chief minister for long,” said a Congress official.
The allusion was to Ashok Choudhary, a powerful former minister who is likely to be re-inducted when the new cabinet is expanded. Choudhary headed the state Congress till 2017 and, after having been made to give up the top party post, joined the JD(U) along with some other party MLCs close to him.
A senior BJP official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted “we may not need to shore up our numbers to survive the floor test scheduled on February 12. But, if some MLAs from the Congress do switch sides, it will definitely lead to a demoralisation in the entire opposition camp, which will be of benefit to the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls”.
Meanwhile, sources in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ also claimed plans were afoot to queer the pitch for the BJP-JD(U) combine when the House elects a new Speaker in place of RJD’s Awadh Bihari Chaudhary, who has so far refused to step down despite NDA legislators having moved a no-confidence motion against him soon after the change of guard.
They said RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and top leaders of the Congress were continuing to hold out an olive branch to mercurial former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who has demanded another cabinet berth in the NDA for his four MLA-strong Hindustani Awam Morcha, citing “offer of CM’s post” from the opposition camp.
“There are many disgruntled MLAs in the JD(U), who do not see a future for themselves with the BJP. If they, along with Manjhi’s men switch sides, it might cause a major upset,” the sources added.